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Opposition Day

Steel Industry

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.43 pm

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I beg to move,

The motion was tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends, and on behalf of the UK and Welsh steel industry.

Like me, the Secretary of State comes of ironworkers' stock. His constituency suffered 1,000 job losses as a result of last year's Corus closures. I feel genuinely sorry for him that he has been chosen to answer on the Government's behalf on matters on which he was not consulted and over which he has no control. Yet again, the Secretary of State for Wales has been handed all the responsibility and none of the power.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Adam Price: In a minute.

Llew Smith: Will he give way?

Adam Price: In a minute.

Llew Smith rose

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Adam Price: But the Secretary of State does have the choice—a very simple one: to defend his Government and his party's reputation, or to represent the people who elected him. If he will not stand up and defend Welsh industry and Welsh communities, there are many hon. Members on these Benches who are prepared to do so.

Llew Smith: The hon. Gentleman says that he is involved in this debate as a representative of the Welsh steel industry. Can he explain that remark, given that those who are closest to the industry—the trade unions—have dissociated themselves from the remarks that he has

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been making for the past few weeks? He is intervening not on behalf of the Welsh steel industry, but on behalf of the Welsh nationalist party.

Adam Price: I am sure that the Welsh steel communities will be proud of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I do not want to get involved in an inter-union dispute, but we have received full support from employees in Allied Steel and Wire and the GMB. The GMB takes a different line from the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation as regards loyalty to the Labour Government.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Adam Price: I should like to make some progress, if I may. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman says that he wishes to make some progress.

Adam Price: We demand answers from the Government on behalf of those who expect a British Prime Minister—a Labour Prime Minister, at that—to be batting for British workers, not supporting foreign business men. Throughout this affair, the Government have singularly failed to provide a satisfactory answer to the central question—why did a British Prime Minister put the full weight of the Crown behind a foreign company's investment in eastern Europe that will cost British jobs? That is the key question that the Secretary of State for Wales must answer in the Prime Minister's absence.

It is shameful that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has not found the time to come to the House at this critical juncture for the steel industry. She is not so much washing her hair as washing her hands of the steel industry. She found the time to attend Mr. Mittal's reception in November, however.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, the rules of the House allow copious use of notes. Nevertheless—apart from the fact that I personally feel that Welshmen should speak extempore—those rules dictate that hon. Members must not follow notes too closely.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is in order at the moment.

Adam Price: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has twice flatly refused to come to the House. At this of all times the steel industry is entitled to expect leadership from the Government, yet we see political cowardice of the most contemptible kind. The Government have tried to brazen and bluff their way out of the crisis. Downing street has issued a string of denials, discrepancies and dissembling. The Government's smokescreen of denial and fake indignation is designed to obscure the truth, but the key facts are clear.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): The hon. Gentleman says that he—and, I suppose, his party—

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speaks on behalf of the UK steel industry. What are they doing to support the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and other members of the Government who are pressing the United States Government to take action over US steel tariffs? We hear a lot of bluster from the hon. Gentleman and his party, but what positive action are they taking to support what our Government are doing to protect the jobs of my steelworkers, as well as those in Wales?

Adam Price: The hon. Lady will know that I am a fellow founding officer of the all-party steel group. She will also know that President Bush announced his intention to call a section 201 inquiry last June. What did the Prime Minister do? He wrote a letter 24 hours before the deadline was up, yet Mr. Mittal got his letter within four days of asking. All the British steel industry is asking of the Government is parity of esteem; surely it is entitled to that.

The facts are clear. Mr. Mittal gave £125,000 to the Labour party. In July, the Prime Minister signed a letter urging Romania to sell its nationalised steel industry to Mr. Mittal's company. In November, Romania did so, after the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development had, at the Government's behest, given Mr. Mittal a loan. Labour has argued that there was no connection between the donation and the letter or the letter and the deal, and that the loan was also unconnected. The Labour party says that those are all coincidences, but I call coincidences that recur a pattern.

Of course that was not the first time that the Government had helped Mr. Mittal; he received his first loan from the Government to buy a state-owned steel plant in Kazakhstan just months after he gave the Labour party £16,000 in 1997. That is part of a chain of coincidences, where favours are given to the Government or to the Labour party and favours are done in return.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Can the hon. Gentleman therefore explain why, on 9 March last year, the leader of the Welsh nationalist-run Rhondda Cynon Taff local authority, Pauline Jarman, met representatives of the Rhondda Cynon Taff bus and coach operators association to talk about extending their £4.5 million agreement; and why, only two weeks later in the run-up to the general election, the convenor of that group gave a £1,500 donation to the local Plaid Cymru party? Can he also explain why, two weeks after the general election, Plaid Cymru councillors on the local authority decided not only to extend the contract for a further year, but to give an additional 7.5 per cent.—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Interventions should be brief.

Adam Price: Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, I was given ample warning of that issue; it was raised by his colleague Councillor Robert Bevan in the scrutiny committee, but he immediately withdrew the allegation. Councillor Robert Bevan and the hon. Gentleman were opponents for the Labour party nomination and they are not on speaking terms, but if the hon. Gentleman were to speak to his colleagues in the Labour group, perhaps he would have better information. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) must be quiet.

Adam Price: The Government have made a concerted effort to confuse, conceal and conflate our understanding

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of this case, and the hon. Gentleman's intervention is an example of that. Line after line of defence has been demolished, as the Government have been forced to amend, to correct and to retract statement after statement.

The Prime Minister said that LNM was a British company, which it is not. Those at Downing street argued that it was owned by a British parent company—another false statement. The Prime Minister's official spokesperson said that Mr. Mittal was a British citizen—he is not—and that the donation came after the election, but it actually came before. It was said that Mr. Mittal had given money to the Tories—another untruth that had to be retracted. It was claimed that the letter was signed after the deal was agreed—not true; a late bid from the French company triggered the letter. It was said that the letter was drafted and signed unchanged—wrong again. The original draft was written on 19 July including the words "my friend Lakshmi Mittal", which Jonathan Powell removed to avoid embarrassing the Prime Minister.

We have been assured that the Prime Minister had not met Mr. Mittal bilaterally and did not know about the donation. Again, that is untrue. Mr. Mittal, according to his official spokeswoman, had met the Prime Minister on several occasions, most recently at a celebration dinner for 15 of Labour's biggest donors just weeks after the general election. Four weeks later, the Prime Minister signed the letter.

Finally—it is such a long list that I am breathless with mentioning so many retractions—it was claimed that the Prime Minister writes frequent letters to heads of state on behalf of businesses, but when the BBC checked the list of countries, not one of them could confirm ever having received such a letter, and the Government have refused to provide any example, citing that familiar excuse—commercial confidentiality. Ten lines of defence have been uttered by the Prime Minister's official spokesman, but later retracted in one of the most appallingly inept cover-ups that this country has ever seen.

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